Traffic signals are an electronic means of controlling the flow of traffic. Like a stop sign or a police officer, traffic lights tell you when you can and cannot proceed through an intersection. While everyone learned about stop lights in traffic school, there are some situations and signals that may be unfamilar.
Trafffic Signal Basics
The most common traffic signal is the three-set light. This signal employs a red light, an amber light and a green light , usually stacked on top of each other. The green light indicates that traffic may proceed through the intersection. Amber indicates that you should slow down and stop, as the light will change to red shortly. Red means stop. These three lights keep traffic flowing smoothly through an intersection, whether it is a two-way or four-way intersection.
At more complex intersections, traffic signals will have additional red, amber and green arrows that indicate when it is safe for traffic to turn. Don't assume that you can turn on a red arrow when the main traffic light is green. In many cases, you'll be breaking the law if you do this. Look around the intersection for signs that tell you whether or not it's legal to turn on a red arrow.
Sometimes you will find an intersection with four flashing yellow lights, four flashing red lights, or yellow flashing in one direction and red flashing in the other. The important thing to remember is that a flashing yellow is not the same thing as a green light. Blast through the intersection and you risk an accident or a ticket from a police officer.
If you see a flashing yellow in your direction and a flashing red in the other direction, slow down and make sure the intersection is clear before you proceed. A flashing yellow in all directions should be treated like a four-way stop sign. Everyone approaching the intersection needs to slow down. If vehicles are approaching from more than one direction, everyone stops, and the vehicle that reached the intersection first has the right of way, followed by the next vehicle to reach the intersection, and so on.
A flashing red light always means stop. Treat it exactly like a stop sign.
Another type of traffic signal is the pedestrian crossing light. Crossing lights help pedestrians cross busy sections of road safely, and they also restrict drivers.
Most pedestrian crossing signs use red light to indicate that it is unsafe to cross and a green light to show when it is safe to cross. The signal may contain the words "Walk" and "Don't Walk," or it may have an outline of a person walking to indicate when to walk, and a red hand to indicate when to stay on the sidewalk.
Just as cars must obey traffic lights, pedestrians must obey crossing signals. Crossing against the signal is jaywalking, and it could get you a ticket. Cars making turns must wait until pedestrians have cleared an intersection before proceeding if the pedestrians have a Walk signal.
In larger urban areas, some highways have a large volume of traffic that may need to be routed to different lanes. In this situation, lane control signals are used to direct traffic. A red X indicates the lane is closed ahead. A green arrow indicates the lane is open. Lane control signals may also be used on highways to indicate whether the car pool lane is open.
Around toll booths, these signals tell you which direction traffic is moving through the booths. In some cases, standard traffic lights are used in place of lane control signals. A green light means that you can travel at normal speeds or proceed in your current direction. A yellow light means that you should slow down, because there is stalled traffic ahead. A red light means the lane is closed.
Flashing yellow lights are sometimes used on essential road signs or to indicate lane splits that may not be visible at night. Pay close attention to these lights; if you see them on road signs, they usually indicate dangerous conditions ahead.
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